Pelosi warns of 'mortal danger' for immigrants being deported

Pelosi warns of 'mortal danger' for immigrants being deported
© Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned Thursday that the Obama administration's plan to deport scores of newly arrested illegal immigrants could put women and children in “mortal danger" in their home countries.

The California Democrat joined the growing chorus of Democrats questioning the effectiveness of the legal process designed to distinguish legitimate refugees from those who aren't threatened at home.

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She's calling for additional legal protections for the immigrants to ensure they aren't returned to spots where they'd face violent conditions or political persecution. 

"The mothers and children — and it's overwhelmingly who we're talking about here — they are the subjects of these proceedings. They are desperately trying to escape violence in their home countries," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

"In the processing of the asylum claims of these women and children and others fleeing … really horrific violence in Central America, the Department of Homeland Security … must ensure that no person is wrongfully deported to face certain persecution or mortal danger. 

"And that's what's happening there."

Pelosi said she has been meeting with the administration on the issue.

More than a dozen House Democrats huddled Thursday afternoon with a pair of top administration officials, DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Cecilia Munoz, director of Obama's Domestic Policy Council.

Aside from Pelosi, the other Democrats at the meeting included Reps. Steny Hoyer (Md.), Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.), John Conyers (Mich.), Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Regulation: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court battle | Watchdog to investigate EPA chief's meeting with industry group | Ex-Volkswagen exec gets 7 years for emissions cheating California AG on Trump EPA: ‘It’s almost as if they believe they’re above the law’ Sanctuary city policies are ruining California — here’s why I left MORE (Calif.) and Bennie Thompson (Miss.). 

The debate revolves around the weekend arrests of 121 illegal immigrants deemed ineligible for asylum status, many of them families who arrived as part of the 2014 southern border surge.

The administration has defended the operation, saying it falls in line with its 2014 guidelines for prioritizing deportation cases, which has focused on criminals and new arrivals.

"As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Monday in announcing the arrests. "[I]f you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values."

The move drew fierce pushback from immigrant rights advocates on and off Capitol Hill, who say the legal proceedings for determining asylum status are rigged against the migrants from the start. They're citing difficulties such as age, language and the esoteric nature of the U.S. legal system as barriers to a fair hearing.

"The system right now for that process, for the application process, is broken," Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) told MSNBC's Chris Hayes on Wednesday. "The overwhelming majority of these folks are never represented by attorneys at all."

Pelosi on Thursday amplified those concerns.

"The adjudication process has to recognize that not all of these people … have had full access to effective counsel during all stages of the process," she said. "We must address barriers to access to attorneys [and provide] clear explanations of what's happening in their native language, largely Spanish, about their rights in the process, especially their right to appeal.

"We have to study every case separately. … We want to obey our laws, but we also want to, in obeying our laws, make sure that the process is fair to people," Pelosi added.

"We'll be having some conversations with the administration to that effect, some of them today."